Things I’ve Learned About Supervising

I’ve been a supervisor of two (at one point, three) for six months now, and my understanding of what it is to be a leader and a manager has changed dramatically from when it was all just theory. For one thing, I now know that leading and managing can be very different. I’ve also learned that it’s not as scary as it seems.

I should mention, though, that my teammates have both been working for the library for a very long time and that in the past, they ran my two branches on their own. This doesn’t cause as much conflict as you might think. I’ve been welcomed into their lives and their communities as a way to help them grow and that’s really become my mission. Since they both know what it takes to run things without me, I’ve made my goal to make their lives easier and to be a resource to them when there are places they want to grow.

Because I’m a fan of lists, here are some things I’ve picked up along the way:

Personality matters. I’m an introvert managing two introverts, so I relate to them on a lot of levels and I understand how it feels to be overwhelmed by a job that’s very public and dependent on giving, giving, giving to people. Since both are in my same position of being out in the open all the time, I pay extra attention to when they’ve spent a lot of time helping someone or when they’ve been barraged by a mob of people. I do my best offer them a break when I think they might need a rest. I also pitch in by putting aside whatever I’m doing to help when we’re busy and I may sneak my way between a teammate and someone who is exhausting them.

When I was managing an extrovert, I struggled to find the right the balance with her. Because she came to me at a time when one of my teammates was on extended leave, I was consumed with running the library on my own and getting ready for summer reading. I didn’t take the time to get to know her and understand her needs, and because of that, we had quite a bit of conflict. By the time I finally understood that she just needed me to communicate more, our relationship had dissolved. I learned the most from that failure and I will always remember in the future that I shouldn’t take personality differences lightly.

I always ask for input. Even if I feel like I have a pretty solid idea or plan, I like to make my team feel included by asking them for suggestions. Often I get more buy-in this way, too. Before I stopped doing storytimes in-house and started doing them as an outreach in one of my branches, I talked to my teammate there to make sure he agreed that it was a good move and then I asked him which centers and schools he thought I should target. I could have easily made the call as the librarian, but I try not to do anything that will make my teammates unhappy or uncomfortable.

I follow-up and check-in. Since my teammates are pretty self-sufficient (and private), they don’t always feel the need to tell me when they’re having a problem. Still, even when I know they’re going to solve something, I like to show that I care by asking how things are going. I rarely ever have to step in to add my voice to theirs to get something done, but they know they can call on me if they need some extra back-up.

I offer training and opportunities to grow. Every couple months, I find webinars and online courses that I think might be good for them and I send them the information. I don’t make them do anything and sometimes, honestly, they just tell me they’re fine for now. I don’t mind either way, but I think it’s important to offer.

I do fun stuff. Every now and then, I spring for pizza or bring chocolate goodies. I got a library pet that’s only half for patrons. Really, we all love taking breaks to pet her and feed her treats. 😉 Everyone needs a break from the routine.

I lead by example. This helps a lot when we have new people helping us out at the branches. Not every branch has the same standards for helping people (though we’re supposed to, there’s no such thing as perfect execution). My team and I lead the way by doing everything we can for people and I try to help most of all. I can always tell when someone isn’t used to the way we do things because I’ll catch them watching me and then watching the clock, timing how long I’ll sit with someone or counting how many times I go over something. Sometimes people will try to help me escape by coming over and mentioning something like how it’s time for my break. I never fuss at anyone for doing this, because I know it’s how they’ve been shown to do things. Instead, I just patiently show them a different way. For most staff, it’s freeing for them to know that we want them to spend as much time as they can with people and that they’re always allowed to show kindness and understanding instead of judging or punishing. I never speak harshly about patrons and I shut down gossip or judgmental statements.

That’s the Brytani Way.


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